When we first launched GiftGood earlier this year, we always wanted to connect consumers & business clients with up-and-coming local and regional businesses in Singapore and Southeast Asia with great products and services, and an even greater story to tell. Mad Roaster is definitely one of them.
We learned about Mad Roaster’s story at the end of 2021 and had the chance to meet Madeline, Founder of Mad Roaster, in person at the end of April 2022 to discuss a potential collaboration. We were so impressed by her pro bono work and her passion to support the refugee community in Thailand, as well as her courage to start a specialty coffee & toast business during the pandemic. In addition, we fell in love with the unique concept of having one-of-a-kind logo art stickers coloured by the refugees on each cup of coffee.
We knew for sure we wanted to incorporate Madeline’s story on GiftGood somehow. After 3+ months of discussion and preparation, we’re finally ready and waiting in excitement for the launch of GiftGood x Mad Roaster Collaboration starting this August 01, 2022.
Through our collaborate with Mad Roaster, we hope to make gifting even more meaningful for you and your loved ones.
Before the launch, we had a short interview with Madeline to give you a snippet of her story. Read on for our Q&As with Madeline, Founder of Mad Roaster. Through this short chat, we learn about Madeline’s off-the-beaten-track journey with Mad Roaster and about our collaboration.
Q&As with Madeline, Founder of Mad Roaster
Thank you for spending time with us. First of all, let’s start with a little introduction. Share with our readers a bit more about yourself and Mad Roaster.
I should be thanking you guys for spotlighting our business!
Basically, I used to be a litigation lawyer here in Singapore. In 2019, I moved to Thailand to work in a free legal clinic for refugees. During that time, I realised that apart from legal assistance, another really pressing need was for livelihoods. They needed a way to consistently put food on the table and a roof over their heads. But one-off donations are rarely as consistent or sustained as their needs.
At Mad Roaster, we sell artisanal coffee & brioche as a way to create these much-needed livelihoods for refugees. Each of our coffee cups features a unique logo art coloured by a refugee in Thailand, and we pay them a commission for their art. Around 50 cents of each cup goes to the refugee artist who designed the logo on your cup.
We are an alternative model to the usual refugee handicrafts that go for $50 per embroidered bag, which you can maybe afford only once or twice a year to support the cause. At Mad Roaster, by incorporating their artwork with an affordable consumable such as coffee, your daily cuppa is all it takes.
Through your experience supporting the refugee community in Thailand, what are some lesser-known facts & information you learned about the challenges faced by the refugee community in Thailand?
Dignity in work is a big thing for us. Back when I was a refugee lawyer, I tried accompanying my client to a free medical clinic that opens to refugees once a month. I had to wake up at 6am, travel hours to the destination, sit in queue for hours. By 12pm I had given up and my client was still just a number in the queue, hadn't seen a doctor yet. I know the same happens if a refugee wants monetary aid. They go early, they get a queue number, they wait, they attempt to prove to an NGO worker why they are so “needy” that they deserve the aid.
That is why Mad Roaster focuses on livelihoods, not aid. I can probably explain it no better than Ayesha, one of the refugees we work with. In her words: “I experienced when we go to aid organisations, they treat us as if we are germs… I never want to beg someone or beg any organisations. So I am happy to get into this program so I can earn for myself.”
What made you decide to start Mad Roaster?
In photo: Mad Roaster's signature coffee cup with refugee logo art. Credit: Mad Roaster.
Why I decided to start Mad Roaster was pretty much a combination of everything I mentioned above - seeing firsthand how a refugee’s need for rent or food was often recurring, but aid was not; imagining how demoralising it must feel to always have to prove how “poor thing” you are to get help; helping with a colleague’s livelihoods project and realising there could be an alternative way to sell refugee art that happens on a smaller scale (logo stickers vs handbags) but at a much higher-volume (daily cups of coffee vs a few bags per month).
Can you share with us a little more about the refugees behind the logo art? How do you coordinate and maintain communication after you return to Singapore?
Sure, we currently work with 11-14 refugees whom we commission our logo art from on a monthly basis. We try to keep the number of stickers that we commission from each refugee consistent across months, so there is an element of certainty in their lives. They know what to expect every month, they can start thinking,”Okay at least we know rent is covered every month” or they can start putting some aside for things like their children’s education or medical care.
Some of the refugees we work with are Ahmadis and Christians who had to leave their country due to religious persecution. We also work with an activist documentary film-maker, persecuted by his government for portraying his country in bad light. They’re basically you & me, in a different setting. I’m a Christian. I’ve definitely said at least one disagreeable thing about our government before. I just happen to live in a country where that doesn’t get me beaten or imprisoned or killed.
For now, we maintain communication through text or video calls. We also work with NGOs and community leaders on the ground in Thailand who coordinate things on that end.
How have things been since the pandemic started for you, Mad Roaster and the refugee community you support?
In photo: Mad Roaster's signature toast. Photo credit: Mad Roaster.
There have definitely been ups and downs. On our end here at Mad Roaster, there have been sleepless nights full of anxiety, wondering if we will be able to cover costs. Over in Thailand, the community leaders and NGO staff on the ground have been taking great personal risks, going around collecting logo art from each refugee’s house even during the height of Covid, knowing that if they do not make the collection to send the stickers over to Singapore, they are letting down the families who depend on this commission to make ends meet.
What keeps you going forward despite all the challenges?
Knowing why we do what we do. Now that I know the immense anxiety and stress of always worrying how to make ends meet, how could we stop knowing that Mad Roaster helps 11 other families not have to feel that way?
What would be a concrete action that a consumer can take to support Mad Roaster?
It’s pretty simple. Just come buy a cup of coffee or tea from us. Every cup helps us sustain the livelihoods of the refugees in our program.
If you want to do a little more, you can post about us to help spread the word. At the back of each of our coffee cups is the story of the refugee who did the logo art on your cup. Post their logo art, post their stories. Everything helps.
Through our collaboration, what do you hope to see in the next 6-12 months?
In photo: Our early sketches and test print version of the greeting card
We’d really love to see new faces at our stores, coming by to redeem their free slices of brioche under the GiftGood collaboration. We hope the coffee & brioche won’t disappoint, and we can become a part of the GiftGood community’s daily coffee runs.
Most of all, we’re just happy that our refugees and their stories are going out to SnackGood’s incredible community as well. When I started refugee work in 2019, almost no one in my Singapore community knew what refugees were. Today, to know that refugee art & stories are going out in all of GiftGood’s boxes, that’s something I never would have imagined back in 2019.
It's been such a humbling experience. Thank you, Madeline, for sharing with us your courageous journey and the great work you do at Mad Roaster. You have all of our love and support. Wishing you a smooth-sailing journey ahead!
About Mad Roaster:
Started by Madeline in 2019, Mad Roaster sells artisanal coffee and bakes while supporting refugee livelihoods by commissioning their art for its logo.
Mad Roaster currently operates 2 cafe outlets in Singapore:
- Amoy Street Food Center, #02-107
- 108 Depot Road, #01-14
For more details about Mad Roaster, visit https://www.madroaster.biz/
About GiftGood x Mad Roaster Collaboration:
In this collaboration, we’ve worked with Mad Roaster to commission 1,100 sets of signature Mad Roaster logo art created by 11 refugee artists in Thailand.
Their logo art will appear on the collaboration greeting card:
- These greeting cards will be available as complimentary add-ons to both customisable gift box and curated gift box series.
- You can add your message to your loved one and we will prepare the card with a handwritten message as usual.
At the back of each card:
- Your recipient can learn about the story of who prepared the logo art.
- The card also acts as a voucher that allows your recipient to redeem a complimentary slice of brioche with any purchase of coffee at any of Mad Roaster outlets.
It’s the gift that continue to gives 💙
Join us to show your support for the amazing work done by Madeline and her team at Mad Roaster by taking one or more of the actions below:
- Select our exclusive greeting cards in collaboration with Mad Roaster for your gift boxes (they are free-of-charge, you just need to select them)
- Visit Mad Roaster outlets often for your daily coffee fixes
- Share the logo art and the story behind the refugee who created it